Health Tips for Seniors

Archive for October, 2005

Skin abnormalities – Hives and Boils

Hives, Urticaria

Hives and similar skin reactions of allergy are a problem for many people. Hives are elevated pea-sized nodules accompanied by intense itching, and they can arrive in a few minutes after eating, breathing, or touching any substance to which the patient is allergic. Another type of hive reaction in allergy, is called the giant hive, a large, flat and raised skin area, six to eight inches in diameter, with a reddened and itching surface. Skin susceptible to these allergic reactions can often be written upon with the fingernail or other sharp object to produce a raised line or welt, and is known as dermographism, or skin writing. Allergic skin reactions are sometimes caused by drugs such as penicillin, or food, such as strawberries, chocolate, wheat or eggs. They can also be the result of bodily infection and on occasion can be mentally induced. A skin eruption due to a mental state is hard to understand and is possibly best described as the skin attempting to speak for the mind. Hives and other unpleasantly related skin reactions usually demand intense study to identify and eliminate, if possible, the responsible allergic substance.

Fig. 1. Skin writing (dermog-raphism) appears after scratch-like writing on the sensitive skin of semi-allergic people. Raised welt-like lines appear approximately a minute after scratching and last 10 to 20 minutes. They are due to a histamine-like reaction in the skin.

Many factors in allergy remain unknown, and often an onslaught of hives, thought due to allergy, may persist in a come and go fashion despite all therapy for a year or more, and then disappear as suddenly as they began.

Boils and Carbuncles

A boil is a rapidly forming, localized bacterial infection with a concentration of pus in its center, while a carbuncle is several boils grouped together. Boils develop around hair shafts on any hairy skin surface and progress quickly from a mild soreness to a painful, hardened and elevated sore, surrounding a core of pus. After the core has come to a head, drainage may occur spontaneously or the boil may have to be incised. Frequent sites for boils are the neck, the face, and the back. They are invited through infection induced by rubbing collars, squeezed blackheads and irritated or scratched skin. When they recur frequently or continuously, in spite of acceptable cleanliness, underlying diseases such as diabetes become a definite possibility and should be carefully investigated by a physician.

Skin abnormalities due to Yellow Jaundice, Vitiligo and Seorrheic Dermatitis

Yellow Jaundice

A progressive and rapid development of yellow discoloration in the skin and whites of the eyes, frequently reflects disease of the liver and gallbladder system. This condition, termed jaundice, is frequently connected with a light clay color to the bowel movement, an extreme body weakness, and sometimes pain in the liver and gallbladder region. Yellow jaundice is always a significant finding and tells a definite medical story. It may come and go painlessly and be entirely gone in the short duration of two weeks, but it is always significant enough to have a thorough physical examination to find the underlying cause.


Vitiligo is the loss of the normal skin color in an irregular patchy manner anywhere on the body, and is due to lack of pigment formation in these skin areas. These regions sunburn readily but will not tan in the sunlight like normal, surrounding skin. The color difference is very hard to hide and attempts to cover these areas with pigmented powders and creams, and even tattooing, is usually very unsatisfactory. The reason for the pigment loss in vitiligo is still unknown, and complete cure is impossible, but this skin condition has no great significance aside from its embarrassing cosmetic appearance.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This difficulty, in the simplest terms, means an over supply of oil in the skin. It is found primarily in the scalp but is also seen in the folding body skin sites, such as the armpits or groin. In addition to the excessive greasiness of the skin, there is usually a red crusting accompanied by intense itching which invites scratching and infection. The disease seems to be worse during adult life when sex hormones flow through the blood stream at their highest level, and is frequently seen at the age of fifty years or later.

Seborrheic dermatitis demands continual and scrupulous cleansing, frequent shampooing, and a diet low in fats. Severe, stubborn cases may require antibiotic treatment and possibly endocrine therapy.

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